William Milton Lee 李嗣贵 (1915-1997)
Helen Virginia Warren Lee 李海倫 (1914-2012)
Bruce W. Lo, 5/1/2013
Milton Lee was born March 9, 1915 in Shanghai, China, and died on December 4, 1997 near Rutherford, California. Helen Warren-Lee was born July 22, 1914 in Shanghai, China, and died on April 25, 2012 in Yountville, California.
Parentage: Milton was the son of China missionaries, Frederick and Minnie Lee, while Helen was the daughter was the daughter of another China missionary couple, Merritt and Wilma Warren.
Siblings: Milton was the only son, but had three sisters, an older sister, Anna, and two younger sisters, Dorothy and Mary Lou, all born in China. Helen was the eldest among six children in the Warren family. Her sisters were Eleanor and Dorothy, and her brothers were Merritt (Jr), Donald, and Fred.
Education: Milton and Helen completed their secondary education in China graduating from the Far Eastern Academy in 1932. They also graduated in the same year, 1936, from Pacific Union College, Milton with a BA in history, and Helen in nursing with and RN. Later on during one of his furlough year, he also obtained an MA degree at the seminary.
Marriage: After seven years of friendship Milton Lee and Helen Warren were married on August 4, 1936.
Children: Milton and Helen Lee were blessed with two children: son Frederick M. Lee was born 1939 in Kunming, southwestern China; daughter Sylvia Lee-Fillman was born 1944 in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, USA.
Contributions: Milton Lee, best remembered as the American missionary who could speak the Chinese Mandarin language with a perfect accent, was an evangelist, radio broadcaster, and author of Chinese Voice of Prophecy lessons. He and his wife, Helen Lee devoted over 50 years of their untiring service, formally and informally, to the Chinese people in China mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, not only when they were in active church employment but even during their retirement years.
Figure 1: Milton and Helen Lee in Mojiang (Mokiang), Yunnan Province, ca 1937.
Childhood and Youth
William Milton Lee 李嗣贵 (Li Sze Gwei) was born March 9, 1915 in Shanghai, China, to China missionaries, Frederick and Minnie Lee. Milton was an only son, having an older sister, Anna, and two younger sisters, Dorothy, and Mary Lou, all born in China. His father, Frederick Lee, evangelist and writer, served some years as editor of the Chinese Signs of the Times, and in later life as an associate editor of the Adventist Review.
Milton received all his primary and secondary education in China, graduating from the Far Eastern Academy in 1932 as president of his class. Helen Warren, daughter of missionary parents, Merritt and Wilma Warren, also graduated in the same class, as did Clarence Miller, Lyle Ham, Helen Anderson, Charles Anderson, and Janet Wood. Helen was born on July 22, 1914, also in Shanghai, China. She was the oldest of six children in the Warren family. Her sisters were Eleanor and Dorothy, and her brothers were Merritt (Jr), Donald, and Fred.
After graduating from the academy, Milton went to Southern California Junior College in La Sierra for two years, then finished at Pacific Union College with a history major and religion minor in 1936. A year before finishing college he had filled out a questionnaire from the General Conference indicating his willingness for mission service. Before graduation he had a call from the China Division.
Milton's seven years of friendship with Helen Warren, culminated in their marriage on August 4, 1936 and seventeen days later, the newly wedded set sail for China from San Francisco on August 21, 1936. Though fresh from college, one with only a BA. and the other with only an RN, both had some foundation in the Chinese language because they grew up in China and both shared a love for the Chinese people. They arrived in Shanghai, China two months later in mid October.
Began Mission Service in Yunnan, China
With Father Warren's encouragement, the young couple turned down a position in Shanghai's Home Study Institute in favor of going out to pioneer mission work among the mountain tribes of Yunnan in 1937. There, under Pastor C.B.Miller's leadership, they were assigned to open new work in the Mokiang area, ten day's journey from Kunming, where the Adventist headquarters was.
Figure 2: Helen Virginia Warren
Figure 3: Brochure for the joint father and son (Frederick and Milton Lee) evangelistic meetings in Beijing in April 1947.
Life in Mokiang was quite primitive - no electricity or running water, no banks, no hospitals, no doctors, no other Americans, no telegraph, no telephone, and no radios. Helen opened a little clinic in Mokiang, thankful for her nurses' training since they were ten day's away from the nearest doctor or hospital. And Milton was kept busy raising up companies of believers among the hill tribes. Among the national workers who helped build the Mokiang mission community were the families of Lo Gwei Ih, Nun Da Deh, Lin Dzung Hsi, and Wang Wei Dzung. In 1939, their eldest son Fred was born in Kunming. Then the Japanese war began which bloomed into World War II. Within about seven years by 1944, the Mokiang Adventist community grew into a thriving mission field with three thousands believers in seven churches, a church school, and a nurse operated clinic.
In 1944 the Lees took a furlough back to the United States. Milton studied a while at the seminary. Since the U.S. Government would not allow American civilians to return to China during the war, Milton was assigned to pastor 5 churches in Ohio at the end of his studies. Daughter Sylvia was born in Mt Vernon, Ohio. Wanting to gain some experience in public evangelism, Milton got to join Elder J.L. Shuler's team for a large evangelism campaign in Texas. After that he asked to go to the Voice of Prophecy in Glendale, California, to see how their successful Bible Correspondence School operated, feeling that it would be a good idea for China. There Milton met David Lin who was writing Chinese Bible lessons especially prepared for the Chinese mind.
Return to China
After the war ended, the Lees were on the very first ship, Marine Lynx, that carried civilians back to China. Assigned to live in Shanghai, Milton began to work in radio broadcasting, Bible Correspondence school, and evangelism under the mentorship of more seasoned evangelists C.I. Meng and David Lin. Helen Lee recalled that, in her later account of "China Missionaries", something miraculous happened to Milton:
"God did an amazing thing for Milton. For eight years he had been speaking Chinese entirely with the western tones. Almost overnight he switched to using the northern (Beijing) tone, without the help of any language teacher. God must get the credit."
When W.H. Branson became the president of China Division in 1946, he initiated a plan to have scores of evangelistic meetings all starting on the same day on April 4, 1947, all over China. It was code-named the “Double Four”, that is the 4th day of the 4th month. Milton was to be in charge of the meetings in Peking (Beijing). He invited his father, Frederick Lee, then one of the associate editors of Review and Herald in Washington, DC, to join him in a widely advertised “Father-Son Effort” which was held inside Peking’s old imperial grounds in the Sun Yat Sun Memorial Hall (Chung San Tang). The campaign attracted considerable interests among the public, and 86 were baptized in the first baptism. A second series of meetings was planned. But before long into the meetings, the US Consulate ordered all Americans to leave Peking due to the advancing Communist army. While the women and children did so immediately, Milton Lee, Charles Cooper, and William Hilliard, headed for Kunming in a truck loaded with equipment to hold another evangelistic series. As they were heading into Yunnan, the traveling party was robbed by bandits. Though most of their possessions were taken, fortunately no one were seriously hurt.
Moved to Hong Kong
With the People Republic of China firmly established in China mainland, the Lees moved to Hong Kong in 1949. Once in the safety of Hong Kong, they lived out at the campus of the Clear Water Bay College, New Territory, Kowloon, where Milton taught religion classes. At that time, the China Training Institute from Chiao Tou Djen relocated south to Hong Kong to merge with the local South China Union College. On Sunday mornings Milton assisted in the evangelistic meetings at the Bible Auditorium in Kowloon with C.I. Meng who preached in mandarin and Ho Wai Ye who preached in Cantonese. However, after one school year China Training Institute elected to move back to China, without any "foreign" teachers. So Milton stayed on in Hong Kong doing evangelism.
Ministries in Taiwan and Far Eastern Division
In 1951, the Lees were called to move to Taiwan, where Milton led out in the evangelism work in the southern part of the island, while Helen held talks on health and nutrition. They did that for a number of years till 1959.
From 1960 to 1966, Milton, because of his fluent Chinese language skill, was appointed the Division Evangelist for Chinese speaking people in the entire Far Eastern Division region. With home based in Singapore, Milton conducted mandarin speaking evangelistic efforts throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. They were in Singapore for about six years.
When Taiwan called again in 1967, Milton returned to Taiwan to focus on his radio evangelism, broadcasting to the China Mainland, as well as Taiwan, resulting in the production of hundreds of sermons being recorded on tapes. These tapes are still being heard and reproduced in Taiwan and in the Mainland. He also fostered the production of a weekly TV program, called “The Voice of Signs”, for nine years until costs became prohibitive. During his furlough year, Milton completed his MA degree from the Adventist Seminary. In total the Lees served among the Chinese people for 44 years.
Figure 4: Helen and Milton Lee in Taiwan, taken around 1975.
Figure 5: Milton Lee as speaker of the East Asia radio broadcast series from Guam ca 1988.
Figure 6: Advertising Pamphlet of the series of Signs of Times Lectures at Kowloon Bible Auditorium in Hong Kong in August 1967.
After retiring in 1980, Milton and Helen Lee lived in Angwin, California where Milton continued to record sermons in Chinese, which was broadcast by Adventist World Radio in Guam deep into the China mainland. One school year they joined the faculty of Taiwan Adventist College in Taiwan as SOS workers. They also held several full-length Chinese evangelistic efforts in the Far East. After China opened up for visitors, the Lees made 14 journeys back to China to encourage people there, and even baptized a few in secret.
In 1981, Milton Lee was selected by the Pacific Union College Alumni Board to be honored as the Alumnus of the Year.
Milton had two special burden in his heart. One was to keep the Chinese Signs of the Times from being discontinued, even in times of great financial challenge. It was the oldest continuous religions publication in China. The other was to promote an Adventist shortwave radio station in the Far East strong enough to reach all of China mainland. He was happy to see both of these goal realized within his lifetime.
While in Angwin, Helen Lee, together with Pauline Bennett undertook an ambitious project, where they translated 270 Bible stories from the Bible in Living Sound with donations from church members of the Loma Linda and San Francisco Chinese Seventh-day Adventist churches. The stories were professionally produced complete with sound effects at the National Radio and Television studio in Taiwan with Chinese actors and then were broadcast all over the Orient by short wave on Adventist World Radio in Guam.
The couple moved into retirement village in St. Helena, California when Milton had Parkinson’s disease. Milton's life ended abruptly as the result of a tragic automobile accident near Rutherford, California, on December 4, 1997. Helen was critically injured, but survived. Left to mourn his death were his wife, Helen; son & daughter-in-law, Frederick Milton & Aura; daughter & son-in-law, Sylvia & Daon Fillman; sister, Mary Lou Gregory, step mother, Emma Lee, granddaughter Stacy and grandson Lorin Milton Lee, as well as a host of dear friends and relatives.
Helen then moved to Napa Valley Retirement Estates, in Yountville, California and eventually recovered. She continued to promote the Bible in Living Sound Project and made three more trips to China. With significantly more donation, over 110,000 sets of MP3 packages of the recording were distributed in China. Helen died on April 26, 2012 at the age of 97.
Figure 7: Milton & Helen Lee having dinner in Hong Kong with Hing So Lo, Lee's Cantonese translator, and his wife Rose Lo shortly before retirement ca 1979.
Figure 9: Milton & Helen Lee during retirement years in St. Helena, California, ca 1995.
Figure 7: Helen Lee with Carl & Eva Currie in Loma Linda 2008.
Even though both Milton and Helen Lee are no longer with us in this world, their influence among the Chinese community around the world are still keenly felt through the hundreds of audio recordings of Milton’s radio broadcast and print collections of his sermon notes, while in the case of Helen, her amazing dramatized production of Bible in Living Sound MP3 collection.
Figure 8: Helen Lee with friends at her 97 birthday celebration in 2010 at Loma Linda, California.
1. “China Pioneer Killed in California Accident”, Adventist Review, Vol. 175, No. 2, pp. 20-21, January 8, 1998.
2. “Helen Virginia Warren Lee – Life Sketch,” St. Helena Seventh-day Adventist Church Website, September 27, 2012. Accessed October 4, 2013. Home page https://sthelenaca.adventistchurch.org/, (actual URL no longer available)
3. Lee, Helen, “China Missionaries”, Unpublished Manuscript, 2002, Section on “Milton Lee”, available Adventism in China: “Lee, Milton & Helen Collection”, Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage, Hong Kong Adventist College, Hong Kong, China; available at downloadable URL: https://ccah-collection.weebly.com/leemh.html.
4. Lee, Helen, “Milton Lee Obituary”, Unpublished Manuscript, December 1997; available Adventism in China: “Lee, Milton & Helen Collection”, Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage, Hong Kong Adventist College, Hong Kong, China. available at downloadable URL: https://ccah-collection.weebly.com/leemh.html.
5. Lee, Helen, “Preface to Milton Lee Sermon Collection”, Unpublished Manuscript, 2010, available Adventism in China: “Lee, Milton & Helen Collection”, Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage, Hong Kong Adventist College, Hong Kong, China. available at downloadable URL: https://ccah-collection.weebly.com/leemh.html.
6. “Lee, Milton Obituary”, Adventist Review, March 26, 1998, Vol. 175, No. 13, p.29.
7. “Missionary–Lee named alumnus of the year”, Campus Chronicles, Pacific Union College, Vol. 57, No. 18, p.5, April 16, 1981.
Last updated 8/23/2019 by B. Lo